Archive for September, 2010

Meet my favorite coloratura: Jadranka Jovanović

September 22, 2010

It has been about seven months since this blog came into existence and your OT wishes o celebrate the upcoming 5K hits.  

For this solemn occasion I wish to bring the attention of opera lovers to the talent, character and beauty of a Serbian coloratura Ms. Jadranka Jovanović, a Belgrade-based mezzo-soprano with a rich dark beautiful voice of remarkable clarity and depth carrying a wealth of emotion. Her interpretation often has an individual mark, but it is always executed with unwavering focus and self-demand for perfection.  

For many years Ms. Jovanović was struggling against obstructions from power-seekers in the classical music and opera establishment in her hometown. At the time her career started blossoming, the civil war and the NATO bombardment of Serbia in 1999, overshadowed and marginalized the lives and careers of many exceptional artists and professionals.   

I wish to remedy the loss of all opera lovers who did not have a chance to hear and see this exceptional artist. 

For my dear Donizettians here is another treat…

Ben Heppner in Recital

September 11, 2010

The afternoon of this 9/11, 2010, was a treat for those who praise the human voice above all. A world-renowned tenor, Mr. Ben Heppner, a Canadian, native of British Columbia, held a romantic afternoon at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. At the age of 54 his calendar is densely filled with engagements on the venerable operatic stages of the world with the most demanding roles. The repertoire for today was, oddly enough, love songs of, even more oddly, Edward Grieg, Jan Sibelius and not so oddly, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky from the texts of light, mostly love poetry provided in a somewhat coarse translation:

“I don’t know how it happened,

But for a long time, I have been kissing her.

I do not ask, she does not say yes,

But neither does she ever say no.

When lips gladly rest on lips,

We do not prevent it, it seems good to us.”

This reads more like a court transcript of the defense of a non native English speaker against sexual harassment charges lacking in probable cause.

For a Heldentenor famous for his interpretations of Wagner, a lyrical program may be considered as an adventure into different territory. As long as sentiments are shaped within a sub-polar circle, heroic character prevails over southern passionate histrionics,  a Heldentenor is still within its caliber. Indeed, Mr. Heppner gave us a direct experience of splendour and gliding capable of slalom up and down the scale of glow, depth, width, and clarity. His voice filled with ease the intimidating capacity of the Four Seasons Centre.    

At the beginning of the second part of the program, Mr. Heppner warned us about his difficulties with the Russian language, giving it a spirited name “his own Soviet block”. Although the remark was humorous, it was not advisable to speak of trouble in the middle of the recital. Artists of the stage have their own legendary superstitions and  corresponding charms. Saying “break a leg” and not naming  Macbeth are well known. I am not aware of similar charms or counter-charms in opera, but there is something very popular of which various spiritual connoisseurs talk, calling it “the law of attraction”. In other words, if you speak of trouble you are inviting trouble. So, as if on cue, a troublesome note crept in here and there, probably due to a speck of dust in the singer’s throat on inhalation, which may do a great deal of injustice to a most laudable singer.

Russian songs, although geographically not far from the territory of the cold polar climate, carry an emotionally dark edge, a zesty sob, germane to the Slavic sentiment which may not feel quite at home for Mr. Heppner at this point in his career.

In the part of the recital announced from the stage we heard a difficult French aria rendered with the precision, steadiness and confidence we hear only from the world’s top singers. Siegmund’s Winterstorm from the Valkyrie was a treat for me and at the end there was an Italian romantic song which I would readily have traded for another slice of Wagner, and leave serenades, especially Italian ones, forever to the Swedish Eskimo Peter Mattei to sing.

Mr. John Hess on piano provided a gentle but subtle and sophisticated support. Mr. Hess is introduced in the program as an expert on contemporary opera and song in Canada and has a dynamic, educational and performing career.

A few Serbians in the audience took pride in hearing Mr. Heppner informing us of the Ðoković’s victory over Federer at the US Open.

This recital was a perfect way to introduce the opening of a new season in Toronto.

Messenger From Fafner’s Lair

September 2, 2010

In the September edition of the OperaNews, a culture critic of The Washington Post, Mr. Philip Kennicott, in a clairvoyant vision proclaims the end to the Wagner’s Ring. His prophecy is prefaced by the following statement:

“By rights, Wagner’s Ring shouldn’t exist, or at least not as we know it.“

Had Richard Wagner had a benefit of Mr. Kennicott’s advice and had listened to what he had to say “the three decades of creative effort could easily have been diverted into other, more immediately lucrative and successful projects – a string of Tristans and Meistersingers, rather than the solitary behemoth of the Ring“.

He points out  the necessity to shorten its unruly length. His view is founded on the current market format preferences in film and publishing. For those reasons Mr. Kennicott believes that the Ring stands in the way of market trends as if artistic creation inherently should start with  financial statements and as if art is an industry.  Concerned about Ring’s  inevitable end, and in order to meet prepared this turn of misfortune  Mr. Kennicott suggests trimming the Ring down.

Everyone is entitled to his view, but  Mr. Kennicott goes on as if this is the objective truth. Why does Mr. Kennicott feel that we all have to marshal our likes and dislikes into fitted boxes shaped by The Washington Post and Mr. Kennicott, and consume same and standardized strings of the art industry?

In the voice of exaggerated enthusiasm Mr. Kennicott gets carried away as far to promote the profile of the emerging artist of the art industry in the “world of unified economies”: clean-shaven and orderly “law abiding“ and “well spoken“, “community builders“ in the “economic communion of the world”, “urgently looking for their place in society“.

Mr. Kennicott continues to ponder: “How much longer can Wagner’s Ring retain its exceptional status? “

The Ring has earned its exceptional status. It runs counter to all the unforgiving vices of its author. The waiting list for Bayreuth is 10 years long and it is safe to say that it is a bestseller. Wherever it is staged it attracts attention. It is a status symbol of a town aspiring to be cosmopolitan. There can hardly be a metropolis without having staged a Ring. So, what is it really that bothers Mr. Kennicott? The Ring is not in any crisis, and yet Mr. Kennicott claims to find the very Achilles heel of the Ring.

It may sound harsh but it appears to me that Mr. Kennicott does not understand the artistic integrity and its fragile and sensitive nature. It can survive in poverty but not in bigotry. The artistic urgency is the truth that has to find its way out no matter what, and if the life of an artist stands in the way of this emerging truth it is usually a very unfortunate life which not seldom ends in poverty, insanity, social inadequacy riddled with suffering and pain. Mr. Kennicott is trying to convince us that it is all forever gone, and that the artists of today are genetically modified species with new and improved corporate genes.

Mr. Kennicott goes on to convince us that Siegfried should be removed from the Ring because heroism is out of fashion. And when heroism goes out of fashion it is dead, and there is no market for it. So, we learn in so many learned and flashy words the agenda written between the lines:  The Siegfried is to be clipped out  from the Ring.

And why is that so?

The Siegfried opera is the story of a hero on the assignment of „search and destroy“. Siegfried goes to find the dragon and kills him. The dragon is a hoarder of the world’s wealth, the holder of the power that rules the world. Now, with a hero killing the dragon, that may be ill understood. Some people may get sinister ideas out of that plot…

Mr. Kennicott introduces his conclusion by another question:

„Does dragon-slaying have any poetic resonance in an era of oil spills that can destroy in a few weeks an entire ecosystem? “

I don’t know about you, but the creature who spills the oil and destroys an entire ecosystem evokes in me an image of a dragon. It is by mysterious synchronicity that the current edition of the New Yorker has an excellent text on some of the biggest dragons of today. Third-ranking dragon hoarding only 35 billion dollars just after Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are the brothers Koch, the hoarders with annual revenues of a hundred billion dollars. They support cancer research in generous donations and at the same time lobby vigorously for the legitimacy of their toxic products since they happen to be manufacturers of carcinogenic material. But that is corporate integrity.

 Artistic integrity is something else. It is understood in some European national economies. The prospect of having a potential new Mozart buried in a ditch again, or a future new Wagner of tomorrow evicted feels uncomfortable on the national collective consciousness, so they decide to have government funds available to artists with food shelter and old age taken care of for those who qualify to busy themselves with muses. Those nations who entrust support of art to pork belly merchants, and oil spilling dragons, and their tastes may be unconsciously eating their own most refined flesh, with the aid of Mr. Kennicott’s wisdom for a better digestion.